If there's a better way to spend a warm evening sunset than cruising down East L.A.'s Whittier Boulevard, armed with an appetite and a pocketful of dollar bills, I haven't found it. The night might start with a few suadero tacos served on freshly made tortillas and end with crunchy churros fried to order and drizzled with creamy lechera. The main event, though, probably should be the new Pueblan cemita truck that has taken up residence near the corner of Whittier and Spence Street.
As OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano once quipped about the cemita, “Calling this meal a sandwich is like calling a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado a car.” Indeed, a cemita poblano is a imposing, battle tank of a creation. For years my go-to was Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita #1, a sedate little shop in Boyle Heights, where on weekends the tables are packed with families sharing paper-wrapped sandwiches and bobbing their heads to the accordion-driven music blaring out of an old jukebox. After a recent cemita poblano crawl, though (an endeavor not to be taken lightly — it's sort of the inverse of running a marathon), I think I've found a new favorite.
Los Poblanos Cemitas is a flashy graphic-wrapped trailer that recently started parking outside of a small mini-mall in the evenings, using the space between the shuttered storefronts as a dining area with plastic chairs and a few folding tables. The owner, who stands outside chatting with customers, probably will recommend the pierna, quarter-inch-thick slices of roasted pork leg stained deep red by a fiery marinade. If you're a fan of Cuban roast pork, this should excite your taste buds even further.
The classic Milanese isn't a bad idea, either — well-seasoned sheets of beef pounded thin as butcher paper and fried to a handsome golden brown. Jellied cow's foot and slippery squares of pickled pigskin are available for more adventurous eaters.
There is, of course, much more: huge chunks of buttery avocado, salty strings of Oaxacan cheese interwoven like cobwebs, plump stewed chipotle peppers, plus a handful of papalo, a seasonal herb that tastes both peppery and licorice-y and is considered by cemita connoisseurs to be a mark of true Pueblan authenticity. All this is encased inside a split cemita roll, a type of bread that exists entirely in its own category: buttery and fluffy inside like brioche, but with a firm, crunchy, sesame-studded shell. All this, a hearty yet elegant sandwich larger than your head, will cost you only $5 — a slap in the face to every footlong/value meal-slinging fast food restaurant in the country.
You could also try the oft-overlooked sibling of Pueblan street food, a rolled tortilla assemblage known as the taco Arabe, a thick, steaming flour tortilla stuffed with rough bits of pork and sauteed onions stewed in an ultra-spicy, cumin-laden sauce (a relic of Iraqi immigration into Puebla in the 1930s). There are house-made aguas frescas too, lined up in big colorful jugs — and, in a mark of true Mexican street-food etiquette, the stand's proprietor refuses to take your money until you've finished your meal.
Los Poblanos Cemitas, 35000 Whittier Blvd. (near Spence St.), Boyle Heights, (323) 268-2209